Making Mistakes

Having been in this game for nearly a decade (lordy, typing that makes me feel old), I’ve seen a few screw ups.

Some of them funny as all hell, but usually they’re the kind of anxiety-attack-inducing misery that leaves the poor soul responsible curled up in the foetal position for an hour or two.

Just this morning someone sent me an SOS message, and that got me thinking about less-than-amusing-screwups, and how to deal with them.

So here’s my worst automationy-type mistake.


A few years ago we started working with a sports coach, and set up a survey that went out to his list of 34,000+ people. We built it into a massive follow-up system in Infusionsoft.

And for reasons I still cannot figure out, someone unchecked “auto-populate the form details when visited from an Infusionsoft email”. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it was a bug, or someone (me) was having a transient ischaemic attack.

What happened?

Well, off the back of a masterfully crafted email, 12,000 people completed the survey.

And were created as 12,000 new contacts with no personal information at all – not even an email address.

None of the segmenting happened. None of the follow up happened. And the original contact stayed put at the beginning of the series.

The worst part was that the responses were so heartfelt and so detailed that we knew people had put a lot of effort into their responses, which made the 12,000 or so replies even more extraordinary.

So how did we fix it?

We owned up to the mistake, and asked if they could please, please, please, do it again.

Most of them did, and the campaign was a success (the segmentation and targeted follow up enabled us to clear about $30,000 of old stock in a single weekend).


So what can be learned from this mistake? Well, I don’t think a review process would’ve helped – we had one, and three people missed it.

And this isn’t one of those "a mistake turned into inspiration and we accidentally built the next facebook" type deals.

Obviously there are fuck ups so profound that there’s no going back. But chances are extremely high that won’t apply to you.

What we can learn from this is that mistakes, even big ones, are not the end of the world. They can be fixed, and when you treat your list right to begin with, they’ll forgive it when you (or someone you hire who should really know better) makes a mistake.

That, and a well designed, segmented auto-responder system will still convert like mad.